We’ve been down this road before, in the same unsteady spot where we’re standing today. Call it a crossroads, defining moment, or whatever you think is appropriate, the sting doesn’t get easier as the years pass. Do you remember swishing away the foul taste we had after James Franklin’s first Homecoming game as head coach in 2014? To this day, I’m still not sure what’s worse: the way Northwestern took us to the woodshed on our own home turf or the empty pit in our stomachs and blind fear knowing that high and mighty Ohio State had Happy Valley next on their schedule.
I could sit here in my misery and sorrow, and remind you all again that JoePa himself took the long and winding road to No. 1 and actually had the audacity to make us suffer through the pain of four straight runs up the gut in his quest to topple Bear Bryant and Alabama. But what’s the point, right? If you lived it, the sting still hangs around like an old battle wound.
The point here is, we know the feeling all too well, so welcome back to the days of doom and gloom. So close, yet so far away. Sadly this is not a game of horseshoes. It’s eat or be eaten in the high stakes game of college football, and now we find ourselves on the wrong side once again. It’s funny how we can rise within a step or two of the tippity-top and then come crashing back down to earth in just a blink of an eye. Check that, there’s nothing funny about it. In fact, it’s downright heartbreaking to watch the same friends we spent the first five undefeated weeks daydreaming with be completely ripped apart at the seams in just a matter of seconds.
For what it’s worth, I still BELIEVE. If for no other reason than it seems we’ve spent a lifetime with our backs against the wall, counted down and out. We are the underdogs, the afterthoughts, and yet, just when the going seems to get too tough to handle, the Nittany Lions come out swinging. For all the wins that fuel our fire, if we dig down deep enough, it’s moments like these that truly tug at our heart strings. In 2014, OSU may have won on paper (thanks to the helping hands from their friends in stripes), but we beat those Buckeyes fair and square with one hand tied behind our back. On the flipside, I could only imagine how brutal a virtual beating Joe would’ve taken if social media and the dawn of keyboard warriors had existed back in 1979 as he stood in the Sugar Bowl and crumbled. Three years later and on the exact same field, he solidified his legacy and that of Penn States forever.
The next two weeks will mark a decade since they tried to dig our grave. The beginning of the end became the narrative in early November 2011 and in some unfortunate ways, it was. In others, it was the beginning of a reset and a fresh new start. We did not climb as high as No. 4 (two out if the past three years as a friendly reminder) by shear luck or some oddball mistake. That climb was completely earned with grit by the Lion hearted. It was built brick by brick upon the shoulders of adversity, and as much as last weeks loss may sting, throwing in the towel will never be an option when it comes to us, no matter how easy it would be just to give up and quit. So go ahead and fear those Buckeyes all you want. If that’s your choice, I get it, but beating up the likes of Tulsa, Akron, Maryland, Rutgers, and Indiana does not fool me for one split second. We’ve been down this lonely road before and as frustrating as it is, the time has come again to reach deep inside our souls and pull that rope in the same direction as we ROAR into a sea of red. Penn State pulls off the upset 23-21.